“Nobody shoots a car the way Aussies do,” admits director and trash cinephile Quentin Tarantino on Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood. “They manage to shoot cars with this fetishistic lense that just makes you want to jerk off.”
With The Rover director David Michôd proves that Australian cinema’s class of 2014 makes no distinctions between high and low art. His dystopian Western is equally indebted to George Miller’s 1979 road revenge thriller Mad Max as it is to Australian New Wave love/hate letters to the murderous landscape like 1971’s doubletap of Walkabout and Wake In Fright.
The Rover‘s Max Rockatansky is Eric (Guy Pearce), a seething everyman whose nerves have been pulled so tight by circumstances we never see that he becomes an unrelenting force of vengeance at the slightest provocation – in this case when a posse of outlaws (led by indie film icon Scoot McNairy) steal his car.
“I just want my cah,” he rumbles, like the Man With No Name in a pair of Hard Yakka shorts. Gathering up the gang-leader’s semi-retarded little brother, Rey (a near-unrecognisable Robert Pattinson), the two blaze a trail across a sun-bleached landscape of wide Australian roads and that makes your eyelids shiver with heat haze.
In this miserable world of private security contractors keeping steely-eyed watch over Chinese freight trains and army snatch squads transporting detainees east, there’s something strangely touching about the growing, not-quite-warmth between Rey and Eric. The former needs people to give him purpose, while the latter hasn’t needed people in so long that he’s left strangely vulnerable once one enters his life.
Their journey is destined to be tragic – they’re on a mission to confront Rey’s own brother, after all, and Rey is ostensibly a hostage, but as he struggles to impress Eric and they’re increasingly drawn into each other’s worlds, it becomes something of an unspoken suicide pact with an unlikely touch of Thelma & Louise about it.
The cordite-filled climax is expected, but the gut-punch of a conclusion isn’t as Eric pops the boot of his car and we discover just what is it that the Man With Nothing To Lose is prepared to die for.
Michôd’s bleakly black joke only grows in the telling and the trail of dead that it leaves in its wake.